Nagano, Japan doesn't have anything on West Virginia. While the sports world is focusing on the Winter Olympics, we're building our own stories and memories right here in the Mountain State.
Let's see, we've got plenty of human-interest stories, ranging from inspirational to controversial to heartbreaking. We've got rivalries old and new, although thank Goodness we don't have any Tonya and Nancy scenarios. We've got a team that everyone loves to hate because of their domination year after year. (Do you think John Marshall's big victory over South felt like the 1980 US hockey team's victory over the USSR?) Oh and, uh yeah, we get our share of snow too. I really do enjoy the Olympics, but come February it's not the Olympic Theme that gives me cold chills - it's the theme from "Rocky". For those of you who will be making your first trip to the state tournament this year, you'll know what I mean when the time comes.
Anyway, back to matters at hand. I had a really enjoyable day Saturday at the MSAC (Blue Division) and LKC tournaments. Although I grumbled for a while because the MSAC started nearly two hours later than I thought it was going to, I still got to see a couple of rounds before heading to St. Marys for the LKC finals.
Cabell Midland was just a blur in the first two rounds, pinning almost every one of their opponents from Capital and St. Albans. In fact, in the second round Midland put away St. Albans and Huntington put away Capital so quickly that their matches were over before South and Parkersburg finished their 152-lb bout. I think South's loss to John Marshall was good for their team, and it obviously didn't hurt their morale as they went on to win the conference title.
Injuries haven't seemed to hurt Cabell Midland much. They were able to fill their gaps with quality wrestlers and crowned six individual champions Saturday, more than any other team. They even gave South another scare, leading the Patriots going into the 171-lb match before surrendering to a 38-28 defeat.
It looks like Parkersburg South has finally found the right lineup formula, and should be in good position to battle it out with John Marshall in the regional tournament.
I heard that Huntington was missing four of their wrestlers. I'm not sure if that is temporary or permanent. If it's permanent, I'd have to say Cabell Midland will be hard to beat in the regional tournament after what I saw Saturday. I noticed Joe Thorpe wasn't in the lineup. I hated that, because I really wanted to see how Thorpe would do against Joel Newberry of Parkersburg and Jared Walters of Midland. As for the Region 3 tournament, I guess Midland fans will have to wait until then to see if Walters will come out on top in one of the state's top individual rivalries. And speaking of Huntington, where was Buffalo Bill with his trusty video camera?
Roane County made a big debut into the MSAC, claiming five individual champions en route to winning the Gold Division by a wide margin over runner-up Herbert Hoover. Chris Johnson of Nitro remained undefeated on the year in winning the 112-lb title. I thought it was interesting that William Steele of Roane County has moved to 160.
It looks like Jonathon Holt of Fairmont Senior was the biggest surprise of the NCAC tournament, winning the 125-lb championship with a 5-3 overtime decision of Billy Baisden of Buckhannon-Upshur. Any time you have two rivals facing each other in a championship match, the winner is a big winner. Such must have been the case in Greg White of North Marion's overtime victory over Fairmont Senior's Jonathon Delligatti. I'm sure that got the momentum going for the Huskies, who once again proved they're one of the state's toughest tournament teams.
I wasn't surprised to see that Lewis County's Kenny Henline finished as runner-up. He's one to watch for at the state tournament.
I'm looking forward to seeing Fairmont Senior in action against Parkersburg South Friday night. I know they'll want a taste of what John Marshall experienced last week, and they will be more than ready for South.
East Fairmont has a trio of talented wrestlers (B. J. Sailor, Chris Raines, and Adam Dicken) that are sure to make some noise in a couple of weeks. Elkins can always count on their big guys Zach Kerns and Lonnie Sharp (first and second, respectively) to do well. Buckhannon-Upshur may be headed for one of their best years ever, placing five wrestlers in the finals Saturday and finishing third overall.
The LKC finals were every bit as good as I expected. The excitement was in the air before the consolation finals even began, as Wirt County had a narrow lead over Ritchie County. I want to take a moment to say that the program at Ritchie County has become one of the best in the state. They have some outstanding individual wrestlers and a core of talent. They stayed right with Wirt through the consolation finals, but fell short when Wirt clinched the championship during Jason Miller's victory at 140.
I had to smile last week when I saw a post on the forum asking about Adam Schindler. He certainly has no identity problem among his LKC rivals, and he made his mark in history with his victory over defending state champion Jimmy Johnson of Calhoun County. The match was well wrestled and close until Schindler caught Johnson and pinned him in the 2nd period. He also joined an elite group of wrestlers who have won LKC titles as freshmen, and is now on a mission to become a four-time LKC champion. And if that were not enough, he was also named Outstanding Wrestler for the tournament.
Being a four-time champion in the LKC is no small task, as only seven other wrestlers have accomplished the feat, the first being none other than Matt Ashley.
David Drennen of Wirt County made a return to wrestling with a bang as he won his fourth straight LKC title. I'll have to admit I was wondering how he would do, jumping from 125 last year to 160 this year, but he made it look easy. Incidentally, his teammate Mike Miller could be a four-time winner next year. Miller avenged an early-season overtime loss to Justin Wince of Ritchie County, handing Wince his first loss in 33 outings this year.
Other recent returnees to the mat were Justin Underwood of Braxton County (whom I had the pleasure of meeting) and Jeremy Boatright of Calhoun. Both had been out due to injuries, but both found themselves in the LKC finals. Underwood is still regaining his strength and fell victim to a powerful Steve Wilmoth of Calhoun. Boatright dominated Ritchie's Justice Smith in their title match, scoring 12 points in the first period alone before getting the pin in the second period. One more wrestler who recently returned to the mats is Williamstown's Zac Johnson, who finished second to Calhoun's Eric McCartney. Although he lost by pin to McCartney, I don't think we've heard the last of Johnson.
Wirt's Josh Cross, who won the 112-lb title last year as a freshman, saw his chance at a 4-time LKC title go by the wayside as he lost a tough 1-0 decision to Jason Hayhurst of Ritchie County in one of the evening's best matches. Hayhurst is an outstanding wrestler and, justifiably so, is ranked number one in the state, followed by Cross. Ironically, Cross defeated Hayhurst by one point in their title match in the LKC last year.
One look at the AA individual coaches' poll will prove that the LKC and OVAC are undeniably the toughest two conferences in the state for AA schools. Twelve of the fourteen top-ranked wrestlers come from either LKC or OVAC schools.
Thanks to the coaches for the individual AA poll. I'm anxiously waiting to see what the AAA coaches have to say!
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Updated February 9, 1998